Here it is; the second and final installment of my short story, ‘The Whiteout Years’. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. That was a joy – or perhaps that is not the most appropriate word. Considering…
Finally, a huge thanks and hugs to you all for reading and for the many warm and positive comments. I’m truly touched by your words and they have given me such a lift. I feel it’s through the comments that a real sense of each other develops and relationships are built; that is the heartfelt core of blogging.
The Whiteout Years – Part Two
Along the road-side Carl spotted the triangle warning sign for elks. For the first time that day he smiled. The signs were far and few between, not through lack of trying. The local highway agency put them out, however they were soon quickly stolen by souvenir hunting tourists and taken home as a memento of their holiday in Sweden. The resilience of the authorities was staggering – hundreds of signs stolen, hundreds more put out.
Out of the blackness Carl spotted the sign for the village. Two kilometres. His fifth year here and the road felt as familiar as the one he drove every day to work. How could that be? How could he feel so at home in a place he’d visited so infrequently?
He started to in shock, eyes blinded by a kaleidoscopic sheet of colour. Blinking, he saw more rainfalls of brilliant reds, whites, purples high in the sky. Another rocket swerved to the right, evaporating high up in the dark. Firework upon firework followed. Carl was late, the plane had been delayed and it must already be midnight. The start of a new year. As he drew closer to the village Carl saw that it had excelled itself. Now he could hear the distant thunder of the rockets, the odd whoops of delight from the crowd.
Three years since his last moments with Karin. Three years since days, weeks, months, years ceased to matter. Her parent’s had survived their loss; he never knew how. At their insistence Carl came every year to visit them. Whilst he held himself responsible for the accident, they had taken it upon themselves to save him. A lost cause, he told them repeatedly. He’d tried to escape their care and concern – to no avail. So, here he was again. Late.
Suddenly a wall of brown appeared in his lights. Large eyes gleamed in the headlights and instinctively Carl slammed on the breaks. The car spun to the side and with a smash it stopped; then suddenly it lifted and twisted up into the air before landing on its roof with a cushioned thud. Outside Carl heard the sound of an injured animal, the pained barking of an elk. As the car spun slowly, Carl saw the huge animal steady itself, before sheepishly trekking into the trees.
He heard her breaths next to him, the harsh rasping and puffs of warm air upon his cheek. Tiny wisps of vapour floated in front of his face, warmth meeting cold. Carl started to shake, then thought of Karin and reached out to her, to protect her. The seat was empty. It was all wrong. Where was she? Wasn’t she driving? Why was he in the driver’s seat? She must have escaped? Gone to get help? He heard her voice in the distance, “Keep safe! Live.”
“Karin!” Carl shouted her name until his voice was hoarse, quaking with the cold. His hand, blue and black, fought to release the seat-belt buckle. Karin, he had to find her.
She was driving, laughing, singing away as they took an unknown short cut to her parents. He should have said no. He should have told her to slow down. Be sensible. No, he had told her, she’d shouted back. “Sensible is not living, this is!” and with that she’d turned the wheel first one way and then the other, skidding round and round. He’d been furious, his temper frayed with fear. Seeing this, Karin had thrown herself around his neck, nestled her face into his neck, kissing him, comforting, all the time muttering, “Sorry, sorry.” After a while the car chilled and conscious of the time and the fireworks display, they set off. “Please, Carl, sensible is okay but remember to live, to live wildly, madly. Promise me.”
“Wildly, madly,” the words echoed in his mind, around him. “Please live…” the silent voice begged of him,
“Live!” Karin’s voice again. Twisting stiffly in his seat, Carl searched for her. She’d been driving, more carefully after their stop, but he suddenly noticed her seatbelt. She’d forgotten to fasten it again. He told he to stop and do it up. She refused, saying they were soon there. He insisted. She started teasing him, “Calm Carl,” when suddenly he reached over in a huff for the belt. There was no warning, no skid, no shout. Nothing. Just a sharp descent down into the ditch, the car clumsily crashing, round and round down the steep slope. They would have been ok, the police said later. They would have been ok, if it wasn’t for the birch tree. Karin’s side of the car hit it full on, the door crushed on to her side. Unconscious for hours, Carl woke in the hospital with Karin’s father by his side, tears streaming down his face as he held Carl’s questioning look.
“Live wildly…” Karin’s voice again, demanding to be heard and freezing Carl started to, only to find himself dangling upside down in his seat, his head searing with pain, so cold time slowed. With her warm hand on his black fingers, they began to glow red as blood pumped painfully into them. With her guiding force Carl reached for his seatbelt until a sharp click released the buckle and with difficulty he clambered onto the road.
Ahead lights sparkled from the windows of the houses in the village, colourful tree lights, window lights, candles. The last firework crackled in a cacophony light. “Karin!” Carl spun round, stumbling with dizziness. No one. Nothing. Yet, still something.
The lights ahead beckoned, the lights of warmth and life and for the first time in three years Carl could see them, feel them. The mantle of oblivion had been lifted and yes, he would listen to her, to live wildly, madly. With tears stinging, freezing into tiny droplets on his cheek Carl staggered off towards the village.
© Annika Perry 2015